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'The Game's Afoot' at Baily Vineyard and Winery

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What happens at wineries? People make wine, drink wine, and sell wine, but lately in the Temecula Valley Wine Country, wineries have also become the settings for some great entertainment. Last night we enjoyed a rollicking, holiday-themed whodunit at Baily’s Vineyard and Winery. The show was presented by Shakespeare in the Vines, the area’s popular theatrical company that is well-known for its outstanding presentations of Shakespeare during the warmer months.

Last night it was really cold outside (well, really cold for Southern California) but warm inside as we enjoyed “The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays,” an award-winning play by Ken Ludwig. This clever and uproarious romp won the “Best Play Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award” in 2012.

The play is set in 1936 in an isolated mansion in Connecticut. The plot is full of high-spirited twists. Broadway star William Gillette, who is admired for his leading role in the Sherlock Holmes play, has invited his fellow cast-members for an evening of holiday merriment. But the cheerful gathering turns somber when one of the cast members is murdered. The story proceeds with hilarity and a few scary moments as the killer is tracked down. The audience was kept guessing as the fast-paced plot evolved and we tried to determine “whodunit” along with the characters.

The setting in Baily Winery’s restaurant, Carol’s, was especially appropriate with its stone walls suggesting the castle-like setting and sparkling holiday decorations creating an intimate atmosphere for the spooky murder scene. Since we were all sitting at tables around the edges of the stage, we felt like we were part of the action. The cast was outstanding and you could tell they were having as much fun as the audience.

One of last evening’s guests, Linda Stewart, commented, “It was a pleasure to see the actors really relishing their roles in their vibrant, Holmes-period costumes. I also appreciated having the actors mingle with the audience after the show.”

And the acting was impressive. Here is just a brief description of the characters: (Pardon me if I have no criticisms of the acting, but I truly thought they were all stellar in their roles.) Beau Allen, who is a favorite in Shakespeare in the Vines productions, was quirky and funny in his role as Simon Bright. Playing Simon’s new wife in the role of Aggie Wheeler, Carissa Leigh was the quintessential dramatic damsel in distress. Chris Pittman played the charming and cunning William Gillette (Sherlock Holmes) perfectly and D.D. Calhoun was hilarious as Martha Gillette, William’s elderly mother. Veteran actor Eric Dunn was smooth and persuasive as Felix Geisle. Gina Kraut was wonderful as his flirty, suspicious wife, Madge Geisle. Tina Lang was great as the skeptical Inspector Goring. Although Alejandro Lang’s appearance on stage was brief, he was convincing as the Policeman. Finally, I loved Sheila Havens Ryle in the hilarious role of Daria Chase, the vindictive, self-important theatre critic. Let me add that one of the above characters played being dead really well! You will have to find out who by going to this show next weekend.

The show was expertly directed by Daniel Baca who was also the Radio Announcer. Amie Kaczmarski was the stage manager who undoubtedly helped the show run smoothly without a hitch (expect the murder of course).

Baily’s wine definitely enhanced our enjoyment of the evening. At our table we enjoyed a 2009 Malbac with overtones of raisin and black currant, a 2010 Cab Franc that was especially delicious with a rich, fruity flavor, and a refreshing, spicy 2012 Montage (dry Riesling) with a hint of apple. A variety of beers from local breweries, such as Stone and Black Market, were also available. On Friday and Saturday nights, Carol’s offers a full dinner menu, but last night we savored some light dishes from a reasonably priced tapas menu. At our table, we enjoyed crisp, lightly dressed Caesar salads, flavorful salmon spread and crackers, luscious squash soup, and a nice brie with warm bread.

This was one of the best wine country shows I’ve seen (and our table of eight agreed). Enjoying "The Game's Afoot" with friends is an ideal way to stave off holiday stress and start laughing your way through the holiday season. If you missed last weekend’s shows, you are in luck because the show will be presented again this coming weekend on December 12, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. For more information or to order tickets, you can email info@shakespeareinthevines.org, visit the Shakespeare in the Vines website, or call 951-402-7488.

Temecula Valley Wine Country and Baily’s Winery are located about an hour from Riverside and San Diego, and an hour-and-a-half from Los Angeles. It’s well worth the trip to see this high caliber show. And why not spend the night and tour the wine country the next day? Just watch your back while enjoying your wine because there may be some suspicious characters afoot.

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